US Republican White House frontrunner Mitt Romney stumbled a day after his Florida triumph with a gaffe about poor Americans, while rival Newt Gingrich yesterday eyed a boost from Donald Trump.
Populist real-estate tycoon and reality TV star Trump, who flirted with running for the presidency himself last year, was expected to throw his weight behind Gingrich at a “major announcement” in Las Vegas.
Both Republican frontrunner candidates headed from Florida to Nevada a day after Romney defeated Gingrich in the Sunshine State, retaking the lead in the White House nomination race.
However, the multimillionaire former Massachusetts governor triggered immediate criticism for a controversial comment about the US’ poorest citizens, which threatened to slow his momentum.
“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it,” said Romney, a businessman who last week acknowledged earning US$20 million in 2010.
“I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine,” the former venture capital boss told CNN. “I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90 to 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”
The remarks were quickly seized upon by his opponents.
Gingrich, who lost to Romney by more than 14 percentage points in Florida, fired back at his rival.
“I am fed up with politicians in either party dividing Americans against each other. I am running to be president of all the American people and I am concerned about all of the American people,” Gingrich said in Nevada.
Romney swiftly tried to explain his remarks, telling reporters traveling with him on his plane that they should consider everything he said, rather than just part of the sentence.
“Of course I’m concerned about all Americans ... poor, wealthy, middle class, but the focus of my effort will be on middle-income families who I think have been most hurt by the Obama economy,” he said later.
Yesterday, all eyes were on Trump, who scheduled an announcement for 12:30pm — which the New York Times and other media said would be an endorsement for Gingrich.
Gingrich has been endorsed by former candidate Herman Cain, and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin had urged Florida voters to back him in order to extend the contest, a sign of his support among the ultra--conservative Tea Party.
However, most of the party’s establishment figures — including Senator John McCain and popular New Jersey Governor Chris Christie — have backed Romney.